Toyota’s largest crossover gets a mid-cycle refresh

The crossover segment is on fire these days and Toyota is not letting its popular Highlander age out of the fight. Debuting at the 2016 New York Auto Show on March 23, the 2017 Highlander will boast several changes and upgrades for its mid-cycle update. The current, third-generation Highlander debuted for the 2013 model year and has done very well in the segment, posting record-setting sales gains in both 2014 and 2015 with 146,127 and 158,915 examples sold, respectively. Toyota is undoubtedly banking on these updates to further accelerate that trend.

Headlining the changes is a refreshed front grille, a new 3.5-liter V-6, an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission, available LE and XLE trims now on the hybrid, the sporty new SE trim level, and a host of safety features now coming standard. The Highlander will continue to offer seating for up to eight, a choice of a four-cylinder, hybrid, or V-6 powertrain, FWD or AWD, and a bevy of optional equipment. For those not smitten with the minivan segment, the Highlander is Toyota’s premiere people-hauler.

Updated 11/03/2016: Toyota announced prices on the 2017 Highlander. Check the "Prices" section for the full details.

Continue reading to learn more about the 2017 Toyota Highlander.

  • 2017 Toyota Highlander
  • Year:
    2017
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Displacement:
    2.4 L
  • 0-60 time:
    8.5 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    115 mph (Est.)
  • Layout:
    Front Engine; FWD, AWD
  • Price:
    31000 (Est.)
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

The refreshed Highlander carries most of its looks from the 2016 model save for the front grille. The new face is larger with a more aggressive appearance that helps it seem more SUV-ish. The upper grille section loses the large chrome trim around the Toyota emblem that tracked into the headlights. Now a pair of bars holds the emblem in place. Revised headlights are also on the menu, with more LED accents encased in a new design.

The new face is larger with a more aggressive appearance that helps it seem more SUV-ish

The lower grille section loses the body-color bumper section for a more Lexus-like look. Three grille slats with chrome trim attract the most attention, with smaller black slats down low. A chrome trim piece marks the bottom of the grille and start of the air dam. Off to the sides, the fog lights are repositioned in vertical vents, much like the RAV4. The grille on all LE, LE Plus, and XLE grades receive a silver painted finish, while Limited and Platinum grades will receive a painted chrome finish. The overall look is much stronger and bolder.

The side profile and rear end haven’t changed. The side still utilized black cladding along the wheel wells for an SUV-like look, while chrome trim encompasses the wide windows. The rear has a large spoiler above the tailgate. The large taillights with their aero fins return, helping the Highlander slip through the air. Black trim along the bottom of the bumper houses red reflectors and can accommodate the optional two-inch trailer hitch receiver.

Three new exterior colors options are available, including Celestial Silver Metallic, Toasted Walnut Pearl, and, exclusively on the new SE, Salsa Red Pearl. Speaking of the SE trim, it comes with trim-exclusive, 19-inch alloy wheels, a dark paint treatment to the front grille and roof rails, and smoked headlight lenses.

Interior

Like the exterior, not much is changing for the interior design wise, but Toyota does have some upgraded materials readied for the 2017 model year. A new brown leather color is available on the Limited Platinum trim, appealing to current trends. On the sporty SE trim, black leather seats come accented with silver inserts and stitching, a black-colored dash shelf, and matching dash and door inserts. Thankfully Toyota has added four USB ports throughout the Highlander, giving passengers a total of five charging ports.

The Highlander comes standard with seating for eight thanks to a second row bench seat.

The Highlander comes standard with seating for eight thanks to a second row bench seat. On Limited and Limited Platinum trims, however, customers can opt for second-row captains chairs. These not only ease the entry into the third row, but also make second row passengers feel more grown up thanks to a variety of seat adjustments.

Drivetrain

The Highlander’s 2017 refresh is more than skin deep. The crossover now has Toyota’s new 3.5-liter V-6. The engine is more compact than the outgoing model and now features direct injection for both better fuel economy and more power. The V-6 makes a respectable 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. That’s up from the 2016 Highlander’s 280 horses and 248 pound-feet. Fuel economy is also improved, with the EPA estimated the AWD Highlander will achieve 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. That’s up from 18/24 in the 2016 model.

2017 Toyota Highlander
- image 669313
The V-6 makes a respectable 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque.

What’s more, the new engine also comes with a new transmission. Gone is the six-speed auto in favor of the new Direct Shift eight-speed automatic. Toyota says the new gearbox “delivers a more direct driving feel by expanding the lock up range.”

Furthering the fuel economy front is the Stop and Start Engine System. Coming standard on every trim above the base LE, the S&S system shuts off the engine when stopped in traffic or at a red light. Releasing the brake instantly restarts the engine. Toyota says the system will make for a quieter cabin when at a stop. (Obviously)

The Highlander Hybrid comes standard with the new 3.5-liter V-6 and a high-torque electric motor-generator. Combined together, the gasoline/electric hybrid system produces 306 horsepower. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 30 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined. The carry-over Continuously Variable Transmission is used rather than the eight-speed automatic.

All Highlander Hybrid models come standard with Toyota’s Electronic On-Demand AWD system. It uses an electric motor to drive the rear wheels rather than a conventional transfer case, driveshaft, and differential.

The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission carry over as the base powertrain. Only LE trim grades with FWD will receive this engine option.

Safety

2017 Toyota Highlander
- image 669320

Toyota is upping its safety game with the 2017 Highlander. All models will come standard with the Toyota Safety Sense system. It’s a new multi-feature safety package with automated pre-collision braking, Forward Collision Warning, Automatic Emergency braking, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beams, Pedestrian Pre-Collision System, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

Debuting for the first time on a Toyota vehicle, the automaker’s new Perimeter Scan provides a live rotating, 360-degree view around the vehicle using the Highlander’s exterior camera system. The system, which also includes the Bird’s Eye view Camera system, is available on the range-topping Limited Platinum trim. It uses four camera mounted on the outside that project a panoramic view of the vehicle’s surroundings on the infotainment screen.

Of course, the Highlander’s frame and safety cage help protect passengers from harm, while three-point seatbelts and a slew of airbags pad any impacts.

Prices

2017 Toyota Highlander
- image 669315

Toyota has increased pricing for the 2017 Highlander, though not by much. In fact, the base LE grade only jumps by $140. The prices do incrementally increase the higher into the grade levels, with the highest increase being for the range-topping Limited Platinum V-6 at $1,270. LE grades see a jump of $665, while the Limited grade has a $765 increase.

Conversely, the Highlander Hybrid modes are decreasing in price. The Limited Hybrid AWD is a full $3,110 less expensive than it was in 2016. The range-topping Limited Platinum AWD V-6 is also $2,605 less expensive for the 2017 model year. We’ve got the full pricing chart for your perusal.

Highlander Gas models

MODEL# GRADE 2016 MSRP 2017 MSRP MSRP CHANGE ($) MSRP CHANGE (%)
6942 LE 2WD 4-cyl. $30,490 $30,630 $140 0.5%
6946 LE 2WD 4-cyl. $32,015 $32,680 $665 2.1%
6947 LE Plus 2WD V6 $34,395 $35,060 $665 1.9%
6951 XLE 2WD V6 $37,315 $38,520 $1,205 3.2%
6950 SE 2WD V6 N/A $39,690 N/A N/A
6954 Limited 2WD V6 $40,915 $41,680 $765 1.9%
6955 Limited Platinum 2WD V6 $43,530 $44,800 $1,270 2.9%
6948 LE AWD V6 $33,475 $34,140 $665 2.0%
6949 LE Plus AWD V6 $35,855 $36,520 $665 1.9%
6953 XLE AWD V6 $38,775 $39,980 $1,205 3.1%
6952 SE AWD V6 N/A $41,150 N/A N/A
6956 Limited AWD V6 $42,375 $43,140 $765 1.8%
6957 Limited Platinum AWD V6 $44,990 $46,260 $1,270 2.8%

Highlander Hybrid models

MODEL# GRADE 2016 MSRP 2017 MSRP MSRP CHANGE ($) MSRP CHANGE (%)
6964 LE Hybrid AWD V6 N/A $36,270 N/A N/A
6965 XLE Hybrid AWD V6 N/A $41,330 N/A N/A
6966 Limited Hybrid AWD V6 $47,870 $44,760 -$3,110 -6.5%
6967 Limited Platinum Hybrid AWD V6 $50,485 $47,880 -$2,605 -5.2%

Competition

Ford Explorer

2016 Ford Explorer High Resolution Exterior
- image 578447

The Explorer may have started the SUV craze back in the early 1990s, but these days the SUV has turned soft with its unibody platform and more luxurious cabin. That’s just fine with the droves of Americans traded in their sedans for something larger. The Explorer offers three rows of seats, an impressive list of powertrains, FWD and AWD options, and the brawny looks of a classic off-roader.

The Explorer can be had with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder, a 3.5-liter V-6, and the impressive 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. Prices start at $31,500 and grow into the low $50,000 range.

Read our full review on the Ford Explorer here.

Dodge Durango

2015 Dodge Durango R/T High Resolution Exterior
- image 623949

Continuing the American competition, the big Durango also offers three rows of seating and a slew of options, not the lease of which is the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. Yep, Opt for the R/T trim, and your family hauler comes with the heart of Mopar performance with a dual exhaust to boot. Sure, most folk stick with the standard 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, but the Hemi is hard to pass up for enthusiasts.

The Durango’s high points are an eight-speed automatic, FCA’s fantastic Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system, available second-row captain’s chairs, and the ability to tow 6,200 pounds. Prices start at $30,495, and like the competition, max out in the low $50,000 range.

Read our full review on the Dodge Durango here.

Conclusion

2017 Toyota Highlander
- image 669312

The 2017 Toyota Highlander and its refreshed appearance, new powertrain, and slightly upgraded interior seem like great advancements for the crossover’s mid-cycle refresh. The aggressive new looks and more powerful engine should make the anti-mini-van types more attracted to it, even if it’s marketed to the soccer mom types. The improvements should also further Toyota’s dominance in the large crossover segment. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the 2017 Highlander break into the 160,000-unit sales bracket thanks to these upgrades.

  • Leave it
    • * Largely carryover
    • * Slight price increase for non-hybrids

Press Release

Toyota will be debuting the significantly enhanced 2017 model year Highlander mid-size sport utility vehicle (SUV) on Wednesday, March 23 at the upcoming New York International Auto Show. The popular Highlander, receives an array of new and updated equipment and technology, inside and out, including a new Direct Shift 8-speed (8AT automatic transmission).

Highlander is a no-compromise mid-size three-row SUV that brings together the best in style, technology, comfort, capability, and safety. Its exterior design conveys both refinement and strength, which complements a refined interior that sets a high bar in its segment. The third- generation model, now entering its fourth year, offers room for up to eight, a choice of three powertrains and six model grades, including a new sporty SE model. The Highlander Hybrid adds two new grades, (LE and XLE) to its existing lineup of Limited and Platinum models for a total of four. All Highlander Hybrid models will continue to be all-wheel drive (AWD). The six Highlander gas models will continue to be (LE, LE Plus, XLE, SE, Limited and Limited Platinum) available in both front-wheel and AWD. It all adds up to the ideal family vehicle.

Greater Level of Performance
Performance will be enhanced in the 2017 Highlander gas models with the addition of the new Direct Shift 8AT (automatic transmission) that will be paired with a new 3.5-liter V6 Direct Injection Engine. The new transmission is more compact and will provide more transmission efficiency through its 8-speed gear range. The 8AT (Automatic Transmission) will be standard on all V6 Highlander gas models.
The new 3.5-liter Direct Injection V6 Engine will be available on all Highlander gas models and standard on all Hybrid grades. The new engine will generate significantly more horsepower, provide enhanced fuel efficiency, and deliver a more direct driving feel by expanding the lock up range.

In addition to Highlander, the new Direct Shift 8AT (automatic transmission) and 3.5-liter V6 Direct Injection Engine powertrain will be equipped in the 2017 model year Toyota Sienna van.

In an effort to help conserve fuel, Highlander V6 models (excluding LE) will come standard with a new Stop and Start Engine System (S&S). While driving the Highlander, the S&S allows the engine to shut off when the vehicle comes to a complete stop and restarts when the driver lifts their foot off of the brake pedal.

The standard powertrain on Highlander 4x2 LE gas models will remain the 2.7-liter 4- cylinder paired to a 6-speed automatic transmission. All Highlander Hybrid models will continue to receive the electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Updated Luxury Look and Feel
The 2017 Highlander and Highlander Hybrid will receive tasteful styling enhancements that will continue to turn heads. The changes start with a new upper and lower front grille design for all grades. Each grade will be distinguished by different grille finishes that will also carry into the headlamp housing. The grille on all LE, LE Plus and XLE grades will receive a silver painted finish, while Limited and Platinum grades will receive a painted chrome finish. From behind, the rear taillights will receive a sleeker redesign. A chrome trim garnish will also be added on the rear bumper of Limited and Platinum models.
Highlander will receive three new exterior colors, including Celestial Silver Metallic, Toasted Walnut Pearl, and, exclusively on the new SE, Salsa Red Pearl.

Interior updates include a new brown leather interior that will be available on the Limited Platinum grade. Charging personal devices will be more efficient as all Highlanders will add four USB ports for a total of five.

For those looking for a Highlander with all the bells and whistles but require added passenger seating, the premium Limited and Limited Platinum grades will offer buyers the choice of second-row captain’s chairs (providing seating for seven), or second-row bench seats that will expand capacity to eight people.

Sporty New SE Grade
For a touch of sportiness, Highlander will now be available in the new SE model. It starts on the outside with unique 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, tuned suspension for a sportier ride, and a sporty dark paint treatment to the front grille, which is also incorporated into the headlamp housings and roof rails.

Inside, the SE will stand apart from all other Highlander models with unique black leather- trimmed seats with silver stitching and pattern seat inserts, a black front tray, and matching dash and door inserts.

Toyota Safety That Makes Sense
The 2017 Highlander will come standard with Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS), a new multi- feature advanced safety package anchored by automated pre-collision braking. TSS bundles cutting edge safety technologies including Pre-Collision System (with Forward Collision Warning and automatic emergency brake), Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beams, Pedestrian Pre- Collision System and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

The Pedestrian Pre-collision System (PCS) uses a camera and radar to detect objects ahead of the vehicle. When the system determines there is a possibility of collision it prompts the driver to brake with an audio and visual alert. If the driver notices the hazard and brakes, the system provides additional braking force. If the driver fails to brake in a set time, the system automatically applies the brakes, reducing speed in order to prevent or mitigate the collision.

Lane Departure Alert (LDA) uses a camera to detect visible lane markings. If the system determines that the vehicle is starting to deviate from the lane, LDA alerts the driver and will provide steering assist to help get the vehicle back into its lane.

Automatic High Beam (AHB) helps enhance forward visibility during nighttime driving. It uses a camera to detect the headlights of oncoming vehicles and the tail lights of vehicles ahead, and then automatically switches between high beams and low beams so as not to dazzle other drivers.

The Highlander XLE grade will also adopt blind spot monitor as standard equipment.

To help make parking easy and safe, the 2017 Highlander Limited Platinum grade will come standard with a Bird’s Eye View Camera with Perimeter Scan. This Toyota technology employs four cameras that are mounted on the front, the side mirrors and rear of the vehicle to project a panoramic view of the vehicle’s surroundings on the central touch display monitor. The system offers drivers assistance when parallel parking, and when pulling in and out of parking spaces. The Bird’s Eye View Monitor system also debuts a Toyota-first feature called Perimeter Scan, which provides a live rotating 360-degree view around the vehicle, helping the driver to see potential obstacles.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana (TMMI) in Princeton, Ind., which employs over 4,000 American workers, assembles all Highlanders and exports them to 12 countries.

The 2017 Highlander and Highlander Hybrid will begin arriving at Toyota showrooms in the fall of 2016.

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